Thursday, April 2, 2009

Year B

Today’s a little odd. We began Mass in a very different way from our normal custom. And now we’re standing or sitting here with these palm branches in our hands. Yeah, a little strange.

And this, too – We read today twice from the Gospel. There’s no other time we do that in the Roman Rite.

Now, it is true, at the Pope’s Mass for major international celebrations the Gospel is proclaimed traditionally twice: once in Latin and once in Greek, but it’s the same Gospel passage. We do it that way – okay, maybe we don’t, but they do in Rome….

Wait a minute! Yes, we do – we! You and I – we!

Look, imagine you’re the pope. You’re presiding at a huge celebration of the Eucharist – maybe not right here where just about everybody understands English – because then, of course, the Gospel’d be proclaimed in English. But say, some international, world-wide celebration where there is no common spoken language, we would – we would – likely resort to Latin, and, if you’re the pope, Greek.

The whole point is that Greek and Latin historically have been the Church’s universal languages, Greek since about year 50, Latin since a century after that. The two languages are used to show and to celebrate the fact that the Church is catholic – that’s a Greek word (See? Greek again.) meaning universal.

Well, after all, … that is a bit like our two Gospels today. And it’s also a bit like the writing Pontius Pilate will do this coming Friday.

Remember? Pilate wanted to use that universality, that “catholicness,” when he explained why he had Jesus crucified: He wrote that little sign above Jesus’ head – that one up there.

It says “INRI.” That’s an abbreviation for the Latin words that say, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Pilate put it up there together with the Greek translation and the “Hebrew” – probably really Aramaic. All the locals who would go by could understand the Aramaic; anybody in Pilate’s world – any of them who could read anything – would most likely (say, 95%) understand the Greek. And of course, Latin was the governmental language: Jesus was condemned to death in Latin. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The whole world.

“Iesus Nazarénus, Rex Iudaeórum.” [accents added here just for pronunciation ease]

And then, remember Pilate’s immortal line – “Quod scripsi, scripsi.” “What I have written, I have written.” So it will remain. We won’t hear that line till Friday; it’s in Good Friday’s Gospel reading. But we have been living all our lives in light of that and of what so many people have written about this one truly extraordinary event.

Pilate might wonder some, though, at what goes on in his Rome these days. Imagine him watching, not the Roman crowds at the Forum or in the Coliseum – but watching the people from all over the world – all over worlds Pilate never dreamed existed! – gathering across town near the Vatican Hill. He might then really understand what he had written, and realize his inscription was far too little, far too narrow.

Have these memories in you when we come to the next Gospel we’ll proclaim – we, all of us here together, this time. In a way, especially today, all of us together around the whole world: hours ago in Rome, a few hours before that in the city where it all took place, Jerusalem, many hours before that in the very Catholic isles of the Philippines and the not very Christian isles of Japan. And then, several hours after this, in the tinier isles of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa.

This Jesus of Nazareth has gone beyond “Hebrew, Greek, and Latin,” hasn’t he? At a Mass in the Vatican we might use two languages for the same Gospel passage, but on Planet Earth we use thousands more to proclaim the same gospel story.

But… oh, far beyond the language of the readings is what we’re doing here today. We're proclaiming two different Gospel passages. And, oh, so different!

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” What great, triumphal phrases – shouts of appreciation, cheers. What a fantastic high!

That’s one Gospel. Listen to the other:

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” We’ll say that shortly as we proclaim the Gospel, all of us together. Every year, when the first “Crucify him!” comes, the whole worship space here teeters with hesitation; we don’t want to say it. The second time it’s easier.

That’s understandable. After the triumph of the earlier Gospel about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the next Gospel, when we read the Passion together, is the completely other end of the spectrum – the emotional antithesis to the joy of today’s first Gospel reading.

In all the worlds beyond us – from the world of Pontius Pilate two thousand years until us today; from the earliest hours of today in the islands of the Far East till late tonight in the islands far west; from “Hebrew, Greek, and Latin” to a thousand tongues of all the world’s lands…. In all the worlds within us, from the joy of triumph and the warmth of adoration and acceptance, to the heat of anger – “Crucify him!” – and the icy, stony cold of “Take him and crucify him,” Get him out of my hair; from an act of outgoing love to the selfishness of refusal….. This day encompasses the world and encompasses us.

Let us begin now in triumph… and hope that might help us when we get to the sorrow and the pain. Press on, for Jesus will pass though all this to the joy of resurrection – a joy we can feel when we celebrate Eucharist. … After hearing the story of Jesus’ death.

It’s all here… in Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.